Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
–Leonard Cohen, from “Anthem”
The Patheos Book Club is delving into the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Some time ago, I came across the above quote on Facebook and it led me to the rest of Susan Cain’s website about introverts and her book, Quiet.
During every session of the online class I teach, I have my students take a version of the classic Myers-Briggs personality inventory (Personality Type Explorer). Personally, I am an INFJ which is a very consistent result for me over time. I feel I am most accurately an “extroverted-introvert” or maybe an “ambivert” (which makes sense given my genetic legacy from a very extroverted mother and a very introverted father!). I really enjoy being around people and I’m friendly and social, but on the flip side I then feel very drained after people contact and need time alone to recharge. I find I am restored by being alone and drained by being with others (even though I like them!), hence my own self-labeling as “extroverted-introvert” or a social introvert. Though, of course, by definition it isn’t actually that extroverts “like people” and introverts don’t like people, it is a difference between whether they are fueled or drained by people contact. I’ve observed that people seem to make an assumption that being introverted means someone is “shy” or “doesn’t like people,” so that’s why I would choose extroverted-introvert for myself. There are some other great explorations of why you, too, might be best termed an introvert in this article: “Noise” Got You Down? Maybe You’re an Introvert. | The Value of Quiet. I recently took a week long retreat from Facebook, email, social media, and reading articles online. I did this primarily to silence the digital noise in my life.
“1. There’s a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’: thinkers.”
I have heard this phrase more times than I can count—”you think too much.” While often said with a teasing air, it is also tinged with a touch of shaming. Once, several years ago, I mentioned feeling “too busy” to an acquaintance. She responded with, “it is good to be busy, then you don’t have time to think.” I was stunned by the concept then and I remain stunned by it now—no time to think? What kind of life would that be?! Sounds hellish to me. When I begin feeling like I have no time to think or that I don’t have enough space in my own head, that is my personal cue that I need to make life changes. While I can “overthink” things or ruminate in pointless and self-berating ways, most of the time I really enjoy my own company. I like time to think and I love time spent in my own head. It is a pretty interesting and fun place to be. And, for me then, writing is thought made visible. (This brings me to Cain’s third point in her manifesto was: “3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”)
And, finally, her fifth point appealed to the homeschooler in me:
“5. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.”
How else does this fit with pagan parenting, specifically pregnancy and birth? Well, I’m amazed at the connections I uncovered once I starting thinking about how my introverted personality is expressed during pregnancy, labor, and birth. This is actually the very first time I’ve made the connection between my own birthing preferences and my introvert nature that finds renewal in solitude and that craves silence.
Pregnancy—towards the end of pregnancy I feel an inward call. I start wanting to quit things, to be alone, to “nest,” to create art, to journal, and to sink into myself. Nothing sounds better to me in late pregnancy than sitting in the sunlight with my hands on my belly, breathing, and being alone with my baby and my thoughts.
Labor—during my first pregnancy, the very first thing on my birth plan was “no extraneous noise.” It was really essential to me to labor without beeping, chattering, or questions. This birth room silence, in fact, was SO essential that it was one of my only requests for my second labor—no unnecessary talking. I can talk during labor, I talk a lot in fact, but I don’t want people around me talking. I want silence. My epiphany as I thought about the Quiet book was that this is why. I’m an Introverted Mama. I know many women are very nourished by the presence of supportive and loving family members and friends during their labors. They express wanting to be encircled by support and companionship. For me, I like to cut my birth attendants down to only the very most essential companions (and they’d better be quiet!). And, this leads me to…Birth—after my first birth, in which I’d had the loving and supportive accompaniment of my husband, my mother, my best friend, my doula, a midwife, and a doctor, one of my most potent longings for my second birth was as few people present as possible. And, indeed, for this labor I had my husband only present for the first hour of a train ride of a two hour labor, my mother and toddler son present for about 30 minutes and my midwife who walked in as my son’s head was crowning. For my last birth, I wanted even fewer companions, spending the bulk of the labor alone with my husband and later calling in my mother. When my daughter was actually born, I was the sole witness to her emergence as she slid forth into my grateful hands in one swift spontaneous birth reflex just as my mother stepped into another room and my husband was moving from behind me around to the front of my body. Shortly after her birth, my doula arrived to provide amazing postpartum care and my midwife came shortly after that to assess blood loss and to help with the placenta. This was the perfect companionship arrangement for an Introverted Mama. My older children were pretty disappointed not to be present, but I need solitude in birth and I heeded that call.
Postpartum—I am firmly convinced of the critical importance of planning for a postpartum “nesting” time or babymoon, in which parents can cocoon privately with their new baby in the solitude of their own home. I only now came to realize that perhaps this is Introverted Mama talking! I’ve spoken to other women who say that getting out and seeing people was really important during their own postpartum time. I’ve maintained for ages that this is probably culture talking (“get back to ‘normal,’ prove how capable of a mother you are,” etc.), and not what the tender new motherbaby most needs, but perhaps my preference is largely a function of personality. There is nothing better for me than spending at least four weeks nested at home with my new baby and my immediate family, no long-time visitors, no phone calls, little email, and no travel, visiting, or responsibilities. Ahhhh….babymoon bliss.
Breastfeeding—in the early days, weeks, and months of breastfeeding the symbiosis of the nursing relationship is so complete that the baby becomes a part of me. A newborn does not “disturb my peace” the way toddlers are wont to do. I especially feel this interdependent connection during nighttime nursings, in which the harmony with the baby feels complete and total and a peace like little else.
Toddlerhood and Beyond—Oh dear, now is when “no time to think” starts to wear on Introverted Mama’s nerves and stamina. I’ve met some awesome mothers of large families who comment on how they, “love the chaos” of home with lots of children. “Our house is wild and crazy and full of noise and I love it,” they may be known to say. Thinking of how desperately I crave silence and solitude, sometimes with an almost physical pain and longing, I feel inadequate in comparison to these declarations. Is is possibly simply a function of personality? Can these chaos-thriving mamas be extroverts who gain energy from interaction with others? I find that my own dear children of my own flesh and blood and bone and sweat and tears, still feel very much like “company” in terms of the drain on my energy that I experience. Whether it is socializing with a group or friends or spending the day with my energetic, loveable, highly talkative children, I crave time alone to recollect myself and to become whole once more. I once commented to my husband that I feel most like a “real person” when I’m alone. That means that the intensiveness and unyielding commitment of parenting can be really, really hard on me emotionally. Maybe it is okay to “own” that need for quiet, even as a mother, rather than to consider it some type of failure or an indication of not being truly cut out for this motherhood gig. (See more in a past, lengthy, navel-gazing post on why I need my “two hours”).
How do you experience (and honor) introversion in your life as a parent? Sometimes I feel like being an introvert and being a mother are not very compatible, but as I learn to respect my own needs, to speak up for myself, and to heed that call for silence and solitude, I realize it is compatible after all. My children have two introverted parents and will hopefully grow up feeling confident in the knowing that there is profound power in being quiet, in taking time to think deeply, and to respond to the call of solitude if it comes knocking at the door of their hearts.
It is only when we silence the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of the truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.
~ K.T. Jong (via Kingfish Komment)